It has been a long, unyielding road for women in American politics with some notable milestones along the way, with Hillary Clintons clinching of the Democratic nominee in the 2017 Presidential election being one. For the first time, Americans were able to stand at their ballot box and see a woman’s name as a major party nominee, where only men have been able to reside for the past forty-four presidencies. Though the outcome of the election didn’t go in her favor, Hillary’s ascent into the Presidential race is a credit to the many women who have come before her.
The Center for American Women and Politics were able to compile some critical events that were stepping stones to women’s current role in politics (CAWP). Dating back to the late 1800’s, women have been able to occupy roles as mayors, governors, Supreme Court judges, Congresswomen and positions within Presidential cabinets. In 1848, the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York and just a few years later in 1872; Victoria Woodhull ran for President of the United States. While women were integrating themselves into the political sphere taking on various positions in Congress, they were still unable to contribute to elections by casting their vote. Seventy-two years after the Seneca Falls Convention, the 19th Amendment was ratified, and women were given the right to vote in 1920. Though white women were leading the political shift, women of color were able to make some strides with the first being Crystal Dreda Bird Fauset in 1938. Faucet became the first black woman elected to a state legislature in the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives. Another was in 1962 when Patsy Takemoto Mink became the first Asian Pacific Islander woman elected to a state legislature. But perhaps the most recognizable name among these is the first black woman to serve in Congress, Shirley Chisholm. In 1972, she went on to run for president in the Democratic primaries, which was a very bold move for not only a woman but a black woman at that time. As the stigmas started to diminish, you began to see many different types of women running for office. Kathy Kozachenko and Elaine Noble were the first openly gay or lesbian candidates to garner seats in the House of Representatives and city council in their respective states.
The trend of women upholding offices in American politics quickly became a mainstay with a number of them taking on higher ranking positions. In 1981, under the appointment of President Ronald Reagan, Sandra Day O’ Connor was the first woman ever to sit on the US Supreme Court. Others include Janet Reno, the first woman to serve as US Attorney General under President Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as the US Secretary of State between 1997-2001. Towards the end of the 2000’s, President Obama made a controversial selection in appointing Hispanic Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite her ample experience, she was met with Republican opposition which went as far as calling her a “racist” because of comments made in her past speeches. A woman entering a majority white male establishment can be a daunting task, which many in office have expressed. One of the most refreshing takes came from former Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Often described as cold, Hillary explained to CNN that her tough exterior was a result of being one of the only women in the room. “I know that I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional. But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions” CNN Politics. Through this transparent moment, Hillary was able to connect with numerous women who have felt the same in male-dominated spaces. This was an important take away because it is a perfect example of the inconsistencies in how men and women were able to navigate politics.
In the beginning, an oppressive system needed to be dismantled, and women’s voices need to be heard. That has subsided significantly, but we still have a long way to go in proper representation. Through their tireless work, these trailblazers have been able to make significant cracks in the glass ceiling and paved the way for a promising future for women in politics.